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Spring Fling

“A Rough Patch”

Written By Teresa Howell |
My sister Beth is spending some time in Montana with her grandchildren. She called me to wish me a happy first day of spring. “I took the grandkids to the park yesterday,” she told me. “It was seventy-seven degrees out.”
I looked out my window at the snow on the ground. Beth is lucky that you really can’t reach out and touch someone through the phone, because if you could, mine would not have been a gentle touch.

The late spring is throwing off my gardening schedule. It’s two long months until the last frost date, but I have a lot of work to do before then.

I need to put manure on all my garden beds. Ideally, I’d have done that last fall, but I couldn’t put the manure on until I’d cleaned off the debris from last summer, and as I explained in a previous column, garden debris was my fall décor.

I don’t want to plant seeds directly in manure that has not had time to meld itself in to the soil. If time and weather won’t work it in, I’ll have to trowel it in myself. I’m too lazy for that kind of work, for one thing; for another, many garden experts recommend that once a garden bed has been established, it’s best not to disturb the layers of the soil. They believe that water and worms should move the nutrients to the roots, and the less mechanical interference with the soil, the better the texture will be.

I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’m all for any method that gets me out of work.

I’ve other tasks to do before I plant my June seeds. Some crops, like lettuces, radishes, and most members of the cole family, should be planted “as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring,” most experts say.

When is that, exactly? Was it the time the ground could be worked in January? Or, the time in February? Or the one in March? Personally, I’m setting my sights on early April, although I have friends in town who have greens and onions up already.

I’m still waiting for the Sunset Western Garden Guide to publish a zone map that differentiates between the sheltered and heat-trapping city and the windy and frozen environs of sagebrush suburbia.

While I wait, I’ll use some plastic sheeting to hurry the season along for those seeds which can stand chilly–but not freezing–conditions, and then move the sheeting over to those plants which prefer hot to warm–like the melons and the sweet potatoes I’ll plant this year.

The other task that remains is starting seeds indoors. I’ll wait until mid-April to start tomatoes, peppers, and celeriac. The one-pound salad mix containers make admirable mini-greenhouses. I’ll pot up the tomatoes, peppers and larger plants. The celeriac I’ll just let grow in the mini-greenhouse. It grows slowly at first, and I’ve found that if I’m gentle in untangling the roots, it transplants easily and doesn’t shock.

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll start the squash and melons indoors. Last year, I did, but by the time I set them out in June, they were looking pretty sad. I hedged my bets by planting the more seeds directly in the garden. Both produced like mad, although the sad stuff I transplanted produced first.

I checked one task off my list; I’ve planted artichoke seeds in a salad container. Most of them are up, and in a few days I’ll pot them up. In mid-May, I’ll transplant them in the garden, in Wall-o-Waters, which I’ll remove in June. Artichokes are bi-annuals, but they’ll have their first “year” indoors now, and when I transplant them out, they’ll think it’s winter, and they’ll produce in the fall.

The forecast calls for warmer weather, so maybe I can get started on my to-do list this weekend. And if there’s any justice in the world, it’ll blizzard in Montana.

When Teresa Howell isn’t planning revenge on her sisters, she teaches English at Great Basin College.